On January 29, 2016, Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Executive Director Brian Newby sent letters to the secretaries of state of Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas stating, without further explanation, that proof of citizenship would now be required for voters signing up in those states using the federal voter registration form.
League of Women Voters of the United States, along with its Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas state Leagues, filed suit in federal court on February 12, 2016. Civil rights groups the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and Project Vote, along with Marvin Brown and JoAnn Brown, also joined the suit against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The complaint was submitted by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law with pro bono counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union with pro bono counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP; and Project Vote with pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter LLP.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Newby did not have authority to allow the three states to enforce documentary proof of citizenship requirements on the federal form, and that doing so violated both EAC policy and federal law.
In June 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied plaintiffs’ motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction.
On September 9, 2016, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. District overturned the lower court’s decision, and granted the motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the adding of proof-of-citizenship requirements to the instructions for the federal form in these three states.
On Sept. 23, the court issued its opinion to accompany this decision, conclusing that the plaintiffs “have a substantial (perhaps overwhelming) likelihood of success on the merits” of the case, and stating that it was “difficult to imagine a more clear violation” of administrative law.
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